Many people call Ken Liu a science fiction writer but, on the basis of this remarkable collection of short stories, his work isn't that easily categorised. Even when Liu discusses alien races - and he covers quite a few of them in the opening story alone - it is as a metaphor, to dissect not only what it means to be human but to consider being human in an exciting new light. In fact, our search to understand ourselves and to come to terms with our past and our possible futures (as well as our perception of memory), are all major themes in this collection - the title story is a case in point.
It is easy to see why the brief fifteen-page tale The Paper Menagerie has won so much acclaim, sweeping the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. In it, a young Asian-American boy struggles to make sense of his relationship with his mother, who speaks hardly any English but communicates her love for him by constructing a small zoo of origami animals out of wrapping paper, each of which comes to life when she breathes into the folds. It is an exquisite, touching story. And then there is the man who invented a projector that turns an image into a 'living' simulacrum, and when his relationship with his daughter fails, he makes the simulacrum stand in for her because it is the only way they are able to communicate, even as his living daughter grows older and the simulacrum remains a child. In State Change, a young woman believes her soul is an ice cube and she neurotically looks after it day and night, even taking it to work with her, afraid that If it melts she will die, and, in a discussion upon the nature of books, we learn about a race of aliens so small that they can live inside another species’ writing and build houses and businesses, entire communities, amongst that other race’s discarded words. But An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition is one of the best, combining speculative fiction and science-fact with an achingly sad love story.
Each of the fifteen stories in this collection is a jewel of fantastical storytelling, written by a man who not only knows how to convey complex and fascinating scientific and philosophical ideas but who is also able to transform those ideas, and use them to highlight the beauty and fragility of the human condition. It is a genuine work of art, a complete joy to read, and very very highly recommended
THE PAPER MENAGERIE AND OTHER STORIES / AUTHOR: KEN LIU / PUBLISHER: SAGA PRESS / RELEASE DATE: 8TH MARCH